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March 2018: Large-Loss Commercial Fires in 2016

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports annually on large-loss fires and explosions that occurred in the United States the year before. Those fires are defined as events that result in property damage of at least $10 million. Its latest report is "Large-Loss Fires in the United States 2016." The report included 10 large-loss commercial fires, which are listed below in order of dollar loss.

1. $40 million
California (March 2016)
This was a one-story, 70,000-square-foot (6,503-square-meter) warehouse containing textiles. No information was reported on its construction, operating status, or fire protection systems. The building contained baled materials and textiles, creating a large fire load. There was partial collapse of the roof and front wall of the structure.

2. $25 million
Minnesota (September 2016)
This was a one-story, 561,000-square-foot (52,119-square-meter) warehouse containing various products as well as food items, and was of protected, noncombustible construction. The warehouse was operating at the time of the fire. There was a smoke detection system present, but the coverage and operation were not reported. There was a full coverage wet pipe suppression system present. Five sprinkler heads operated and controlled the fire. The only information reported regarding fire development was that the fire broke out in the center of the warehouse and that plastic product bulk storage was involved. The cause is undetermined. The loss was estimated at $10,000 to the building and $25 million to the contents. All contents were soot-covered.

3. $17.6 million
Mississippi (June 2016)
This was a one-story, 250,000-square-foot (23,226-square-meter) custom vehicle wheel manufacturing plant of unprotected noncombustible construction and was in full operation. There was no automatic detection or suppression equipment present. A bearing failure in a high-RPM motor overheated the motor, igniting oil that then blew into the production area, spreading fire. The loss was listed as $3.6 million to the structure and $14 million to the contents, which were custom-made wheels.

4. $15.2 million
California (July 2016)
This was a large wood pallet storage yard. No information was reported regarding the fire protection systems or fire development. Upon arrival, firefighters found the pallet yard fully involved and endangering six other commercial structures.

5. $15 million
Texas (April 2016)
This was a chemical manufacturing plant that was in operation. No information was reported regarding the fire protection systems or fire development. When the local fire department arrived, the plant fire brigade was attempting to extinguish the fire and cool nearby structures.

6. $14.5 million
California (July 2016)
This was a one-story, 200,000-square-foot (18,580-square-meter) baby food manufacturing plant. Information on the construction type and operating status were not reported. There was an automatic detection system in operation, but the type and coverage were not reported. There was a partial coverage wet pipe sprinkler system in the structure and it did operate, with 25 sprinkler heads flowing. It was reported that the system was ineffective due to an insufficient supply of water, the result of a municipal water supply pump that had been affected by a power failure. The fire began in an equipment area, but the cause was not determined. The damage was listed as $11.4 million to the structure and $3.1 million to the contents.

7. $13 million
Texas (November 2016) This was a one-story, 30,000-square-foot (2,787-square-meter) mini-storage facility of unprotected, noncombustible construction. The business was operating at the time of the fire. There was no smoke or automatic suppression system present. The cause of the fire is reported as undetermined. One firefighter was injured. The loss was estimated at $1 million damage to the building and $12 million to the contents, which included boats, cars, and other items.

8. $12 million
Georgia (May 2016)
This was a one-story, 114,000-square-foot (10,591-square-meter) marine equipment and parts warehouse of unprotected, ordinary construction. The business was closed at the time of the fire. A smoke/heat detection system was present. Its coverage was not reported but it did operate. There was no automatic suppression system present. The cause of the fire is reported as undetermined. Upon arrival, firefighters found smoke showing from one side of the warehouse. Shortly after, the fire broke through the roof and a section of wall collapsed. Firefighters were withdrawn from inside the building and went to a defensive attack. The fire also extended to an office area, but firefighters were able to contain that fire. The loss was estimated at $3 million damage to the building and $9 million to the contents, which included various products for marine use.

9. $10.3 million
Tennessee (February 2016)
This was a one-story, 137,472-square-foot (12,772-square-meter) warehouse. The construction type, operating status, and type of contents were not reported. There was no automatic detection or suppression equipment present. The warehouse contained bulk storage. No additional information was reported on contributing factors. The damage was listed as approximately $6.9 million to the structure and $3.4 million to the contents.

10. $10 million
Texas (December 2016)
This was a one-story recycling facility. The ground-floor area and operating status were not reported. It was not reported if a smoke detection system was present. There was a dry pipe sprinkler system in the structure, but it had been shut down prior to the fire and did not operate. The fire began in the shipping/receiving area in rubbish and trash. The damage was listed as $3 million to the structure and $7 million to the contents.

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*Information courtesy of NFPA's News & Research Division (www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research)